Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter 16.—Concerning the Philosophers Who Think that the Separation of Soul and Body is Not Penal, Though Plato Represents the Supreme Deity as Promising to the Inferior Gods that They Shall Never Be Dismissed from Their Bodies.

But the philosophers against whom we are defending the city of God, that is, His Church seem to themselves to have good cause to deride us, because we say that the separation of the soul from the body is to be held as part of man’s punishment.  For they suppose that the blessedness of the soul then only is complete, when it is quite denuded of the body, and returns to God a pure and simple, and, as it were, naked soul.  On this point, if I should find nothing in their own literature to refute this opinion, I should be forced laboriously to demonstrate that it is not the body, but the corruptibility of the body, which is a burden to the soul.  Hence that sentence of Scripture we quoted in a foregoing book, “For the corruptible body presseth down the soul.” 598   The word corruptible is added to show that the soul is burdened, not by any body whatsoever, but by the body such as it has become in consequence of sin.  And even though the word had not been added, we could understand nothing else.  But when Plato most expressly declares that the gods who are made by the Supreme have immortal bodies, and when he introduces their Maker himself, promising them as a great boon that they should abide in their bodies eternally, and never by any death be loosed from them, why do these adversaries of ours, for the sake of troubling the Christian faith, feign to be ignorant of what they quite well know, and even prefer to contradict themselves rather than lose an opportunity of contradicting us?  Here are Plato’s words, as Cicero has translated them, 599 in which he introduces the Supreme addressing the gods He had made, and saying, “Ye who are sprung from a divine stock, consider of what works I am the parent and author.  These (your bodies) are indestructible so long as I will it; although all that is composed can be destroyed.  But it is wicked to dissolve what reason has compacted.  But, seeing that ye have been born, ye cannot indeed be immortal and indestructible; yet ye shall by no means be destroyed, nor shall any fates consign you to death, and prove superior to my will, which is a stronger assurance of your perpetuity than those bodies to which ye were joined when ye were born.”  Plato, you see, says that the gods are both mortal by the connection of the body and soul, and yet are rendered immortal by the will and decree of their Maker.  If, therefore, it is a punishment to the soul to be connected with any body whatever, why does God address them as if they were afraid of death, that is, of the separation, of soul and body?  Why does He seek to reassure them by promising them immortality, not in virtue of their nature, which is composite and not simple, but by virtue of His invincible will, whereby He can effect that neither things born die, nor things compounded be dissolved, but preserved eternally?

Whether this opinion of Plato’s about the stars is true or not, is another question.  For we cannot at once grant to him that these luminous bodies or globes, which by day and night shine on the earth with the light of their bodily substance, have also intellectual and blessed souls which animate each its own body, as he confidently affirms of the universe itself, as if it were one huge animal, in which all other animals were contained. 600   But this, as I said, is another question, which we have not undertaken to discuss at present.  This much only I deemed right to bring forward, in opposition to those who so pride themselves on being, or on being called Platonists, that they blush to be Christians, and who cannot brook to be called by a name which the common people also bear, lest they vulgarize the philosophers’ coterie, which is proud in proportion to its exclusiveness.  These men, seeking a weak point in the Christian doctrine, select for attack the eternity of the body, as if it were a contradiction to contend for the blessedness of the soul, and to wish it to be always resident in the body, bound, as it were, in a lamentable chain; and this although Plato, their own founder and master, affirms that it p. 253 was granted by the Supreme as a boon to the gods He had made, that they should not die, that is, should not be separated from the bodies with which He had connected them.



Wisd. 9.15.


A translation of part of the Timæus, given in a little book of Cicero’s, De Universo.


Plato, in the Timæus, represents the Demiurgus as constructing the kosmos or universe to be a complete representation of the idea of animal.  He planted in its centre a soul, spreading outwards so as to pervade the whole body of the kosmos; and then he introduced into it those various species of animals which were contained in the idea of animal.  Among these animals stand first the celestial, the gods embodied in the stars, and of these the oldest is the earth, set in the centre of all, close packed round the great axis which traverses the centre of the kosmos.—See the Timæus and Grote’s Plato, iii. 250 et seq.

Next: Chapter 17